Parties trade insults in casino case

A Government bid to penalise the Dunedin Casino for breaching problem gambling rules turned nasty yesterday when both sides in the case traded personal insults.

The casino’s former operations manager, Lawrence Peeters, told a Gambling Commission hearing in Auckland that his general manager at the time, Rod Woolley, was a big gambler himself who had said there was „no such thing as a problem gambler“.

The casino’s lawyer, Christchurch QC Tom Weston, hit back with questions about issues surrounding Mr Peeters‘ departure from the casino in December 2004.

Acting commission chairman Graeme Reeves forced Mr Peeters to answer the questions in the open hearing, even though they were part of a confidentiality agreement reached in a mediated settlement when Mr Peeters left.

But publication of details in the media was suppressed.

Mr Peeters, a former police officer hired by the casino soon after it opened seven years ago, is the only past or present casino employee who has been called by the Internal Affairs Department to support its case that the casino should have identified Dunedin woman Christine Keenan as a „problem gambler“ before she gambled away $ 6.6 million from 2001 to 2004.

Her case only came to light in August 2004 when she was charged with stealing from her employers to feed her gambling habit. She was sentenced to three years in jail.

The Gambling Act requires casinos to identify actual or potential „problem gamblers“, who are defined as people whose gambling causes or may cause harm. The Dunedin casino’s licence spells out steps it must take with such people, starting with offering them information about where to get help and ultimately banning them.

The commission has the power to suspend a casino’s licence for up to six months.

The department initially sought a suspension of „three to seven days“, but its lawyer, Mark Woolford, said yesterday the period of suspension would depend on the evidence.

Mr Peeters told the department in an interview tabled in yesterday’s hearing Mr Woolley was „a big gambler“ who could empathise with people winning or losing lots of money.

„But there’s not a lot of empathy with regards to how you’re going to help this person overcome their gambling problem because if you don’t believe they have a gambling problem, then why are you going to tell them to overcome that?“

Mr Peeters told the hearing that „VIPs“ such as Mrs Keenan were treated differently from other gamblers who spent smaller sums on pokie machines.

Mrs Keenan spent an average of $ 313,000 a month in the last three months of 2003, losing the proceeds of her divorce settlement, an inheritance from her parents and the sale of her house, before starting to steal from her employers.

Whereas small-scale gamblers were dealt with by security staff, Mr Woolley personally dealt with Mrs Keenan and decided to take no action.

But Mr Weston questioned Mr Peeters‘ credibility, raising the issues around his departure.

He said other casino staff would also give evidence that they had complained that Mr Peeters was „not working hard enough“.

The commission is likely to reserve its decision.